“Have you practiced your (any musical instrument) today?”
Most parents have said those words many times to their children. And, most parents dread hearing the children’s reactions:
“Do I have to?”
“I’m playing a game right now.”
“I can’t find my music books.”
“I just practiced yesterday!”
“But I know all the songs!”
And, worst of all:
“I hate the piano/guitar/flute/violin/etc!!”
Before you get to that point, or before you begin lessons on any instrument, consider these “do’s” and “don’ts” for helping your child practice music more consistently.
4 “Do’s” for Motivating Children to Practice Music
1. Be a Music Booster in Your Home
Get excited about music! Very often children will follow their parents’ lead in whatever they enjoy doing. Even if you’re not a musician yourself, you can play music of all types in your home. Let your children see you singing, dancing, and enjoying music.
Keep an ear out for local concerts and take your children to them. In today’s world, you can also quite easily find fantastic music events online. Listen to them with your children, or just have them playing in the background during a meal. Keep your children engaged by asking them questions or letting them move around to the music (only for the online events, of course!).
Finally, make music topics a normal part of your conversation around the home. You can talk about current music news, funny stories of your life that include some favorite songs--really, anything that has to do with music.
2. Prioritize Music Lessons in the Family’s Daily Life
Keep a calendar (weekly or monthly) in a central place, where it is always visible. Not only can you keep track of your child’s lesson, practice, and performance schedule, you can also teach your children how to budget time for all their activities, including homework, sports, and free time!
Make sure your children have access to good, well-maintained instruments. It’s not fun to learn to play an instrument with missing or broken parts. If you’re unsure of the quality of a particular instrument, check with a school or private music teacher. Most of them are thrilled that anyone would care that much about a student's instrument!
Make the practice area easily accessible, well-lit, and attractive. You will probably need some racks to store music books as well as other small items specific to your child’s instrument (music stand, reeds, sticks, etc.). Let your child provide some other creative decorations to make the time they practice music as enjoyable as possible.
Help a new student plan their practice schedule at least a week at a time. Check with their teacher for the optimal amount of time they should spend practicing each week. The time will vary depending on their age and attention span, but all teachers would agree that 10-15 minutes of consistent practice each day for the majority of the week will make a huge difference in the student’s progress and enjoyment of lessons.
Of course, those scheduled practice times should go on the family calendar. But should you still remind your children to practice? Absolutely, the same way you have to remind them to brush their teeth!
3. Help Your Child Organize Music and Lesson Materials
Once, when I was a teenager, I accused my mother of forgetting my music books as she pulled into my piano teacher’s driveway. She turned to me calmly and said, “Whose lesson is this?” Of course, I replied, “It’s my lesson!” She looked steadily at me and concluded, “Then those are your music books, not mine. You forgot your books!” When she came back to pick me up, she had a small tote bag that she had bought while I was having my bookless lesson. “This is yours,” she said. “You won’t forget your books again.”
Every music student should have their own bag to keep their music and lesson materials in one place. As a teacher, it is such a relief when students not only practice music during the week but also bring their music books to their lesson!! Let the student have fun decorating the bag, adding their own touches of creativity.
4. Keep Practice Fun!
All children (and a lot of adults) love games. Why not make practice time a game?
A very simple game involves getting the student to repeat something they have figured out how to play. This is crucial to learning any music exercises or songs. Here’s how the game works: place 3-5 objects like buttons, pennies, or pieces of candy on one side of the student. Each time the student correctly performs the measures, move one object to the other side of the student. If the repetition is not correct, you start over again! By the way, if you use candy, the student can be rewarded with a piece after they’ve moved all the candy from one side to another.
2 “Don’ts” to Avoid When Getting Your Child to Practice Music
1. Don’t Promise Your Child They Can Quit at Any Time
Ideally, before your child begins lessons, you will have already had the discussion about how long music lessons will continue. Your child should understand that, to be effective, music lessons should continue for more than a year or two. Quitting a course of study just because it becomes more challenging is something that no one should do; this is an important life skill.
Of course, developing life skills doesn’t mean as much to a 6-year-old as it does to their parents. As long as your child understands that music study is a long-term commitment, not one you can stop when challenges come, parents have a leg to stand on when it comes to encouraging your child to practice music.
Sticking with lessons also implies that the student and parents have chosen the correct instrument to learn. If the child truly does not care for the instrument and prefers another instead, you should investigate the possibility of moving to that other instrument.
2. Don’t Be Too Free with Rewards or Punishments
A reward/punishment system works for very small children or as a one-off for older children. However, it doesn’t create one of the greatest returns for the student--a love of music and art. Giving out too many rewards for practicing tends to equate music with doing the dishes or making the bed--it’s just another chore to do in return for your allowance or more screen time. Making music practice into a punishment can destroy whatever joy music could give the student. Eventually, students should practice music because of the intrinsic rewards it gives, which include a sense of accomplishment, a means of self-expression, and joy in creating beauty.
Probably the worst thing a parent could do is to threaten to stop lessons because the child isn’t practicing. This is when the teacher and the parents need to discuss what can be done to keep the child progressing and enjoying music. It could mean a change of curriculum, more or different parental involvement, or a change of instrument.
Keep the Goal in Mind
In the end, the main purpose of music study is the development of the love of the art of music. There are many other benefits to be gained from studying music, including enhanced problem solving, increased ability to concentrate, and better math skills. All those things are good and desirable, but at the end of the day, studying music is its own reward. It will stay with you for a lifetime.
It’s worth a few moments of “tough” parenting to give the gift of a lifetime. Keep on supporting those young musicians!